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From her teenage years until she was nearly 30 years old, Allison Kimmey was obsessed with making her body smaller. Though she busied herself with the latest diets and exercise trends, the Florida woman says she spent years gaining and losing weight in a vicious cycle.
When Kimmey was pregnant with her second child — a daughter — she had a revelation.
"I started to have these thoughts like, 'I hope she's not like me,'" Kimmey told TODAY Parents. "That was when I realized the way I was thinking was not going to work."
So Kimmey, who says today she is comfortable and confident in her size 18 body, set out on a journey to learn how to love herself exactly as she was, attending workshops and reading self-help books that eventually led her to a more body positive approach. Today, the self-love advocate has more than 100,000 followers on Instagram who wait for her daily posts — in which Kimmey most often wears a swimsuit and reminds fans to "just do you, babes."
The mom-of-two is also in the process of writing a children's book titled "Glitter Stripes," inspired by a conversation she had with her young daughter by the pool one day.
Kimmey says her daughter approached her, asking about the stretch marks on her stomach.
"At that moment, I had a choice — I could either say, 'You gave those to me, thanks a lot,' and be negative, or I could be positive," said Kimmey. "So I just came up with this off of the top of my head — I looked at them and they were really sparkly in the sunlight, so I said, 'Aren't they sparkly and pretty? Some of them are from when you and your brother grew in my tummy. They're my glitter stripes.'"
Kimmey's book will be available for pre-order in June, and will be "a positive way for moms to have a conversation with their children about body image, confidence and their own insecurities."
"At the end of the day, it's our job for our children to plant new beliefs that go against the grain of what everyone else subscribes to," said Kimmey. "Then, we're breeding these leaders that are going to help share the message and hopefully one day, way down the line, it'll be a better place."
While raising her little leaders, Kimmey told TODAY about her list of things she'll never do in front of her kids, Graham, 6, and Cambelle, 4.
1. I will never weigh myself in front of them
Kimmey says it's been several years since she has owned a scale, as she considers the number of pounds she weighs to be a trigger to return to old behaviors of measuring, dieting and over-exercising.
Because she doesn't want that mindset for her kids, she has opted out of their school mandated weigh-ins, and works to show them better ways to determine their worth than a number on a scale.
"I never want a number to define myself or my children," said Kimmey. "So I will never weigh myself in front of them."
2. I will never count calories, or refer to foods as "good foods" or "bad foods"
Kimmey says while society is consumed with determining whether foods are "good" or "bad," and with counting calories, she reminds herself that humans are born with the intuitive ability to know when to eat, what to eat and when to stop eating.
"I don't want to mess that up," said Kimmey. "When we start counting calories or labeling food, we implant that possibility for our kids to have an eating disorder, because that's where it begins — with controlling food and with them starting to associate 'being good' with some foods and 'being bad' with others."
3. I will never punish my body with exercise
During the time when she was dieting and exercising obsessively, Kimmey saw working out as a punishment for overeating or as a way to force her body into looking a certain way. Now, she works out in ways she enjoys — such as having family dance parties in her living room.
"I never want my children to think that moving their body isn't supposed to be fun," said Kimmey, adding that she and her husband encourage their kids to dance, participate in sports teams, and find other ways of moving that make them feel joyful and confident.
4. I will never miss out on an opportunity to take a photo together
"The simplest way I can say it is that one day, all our children will have to remember us is photos, so it's important to be in them." said Kimmey. "I never want to miss out on an opportunity to capture a moment with my kids just because I was feeling insecure about my body."
5. I will never speak negatively about my body in front of them
Kimmey says when parents talk negatively about themselves, they are setting their kids up for failure.
"You may think to yourself, 'As long as I'm not saying something negative about my children's bodies, then it won't matter,'" said Kimmey, "but when you talk badly about different parts of your body, you're then sending a message to your children that if they develop these traits, they should not like them either."
6. I will never offer praise to them based on their appearance
"I think we can get so stuck on giving compliments based on how we look because it's the first thing we see," said Kimmey, who tries instead to compliment her children on their intelligence, bravery or strength.
For Kimmey, it's about focusing more on highlighting her kids' characteristics rather than their physical attributes, instilling in their brains that they're more than just a body.
"That's not to say that I would never tell my children that they're handsome or beautiful — I think people get that twisted," said Kimmey. "I do say those things, but it can't be the only thing that we talk about, because what happens when one day you're not pretty anymore? That might happen, and then what do you have?"
7. I will never pass up on a life experience for fear of being judged
Kimmey says she gets messages frequently from followers who fear they are missing out on having fun with their kids because they refuse to wear a bathing suit or go to the beach. She tells them that life is short, and encourages them to get out there and enjoy their kids' childhoods.
"I think it's about developing and adopting a new perspective," said Kimmey. "It's about deciding what's truly important and what's truly not important, and it's so silly for us to stop ourselves from enjoying life just because our bodies might not be accepted by society."
Kimmey says she often pushes herself to do things like riding a jet ski, going on a roller coaster, or dancing in public because she refuses to miss out on making memories with her family.
"When you can let go of the idea of what everyone else wants you to be, you're free," said Kimmey. "You can just do whatever you want, and the idea that somebody might judge you is laughable."